BROSSARD, Que. – When it comes to playing the "Canadian way" at the most recent World Junior Hockey Championships, other countries have done a better job of that than Canada, according to Canadian coach Benoit Groulx.
While adressing the players at Hockey Canada's summer development camp, Groulx, the national team coach for the upcoming 2015 World Junior tournament, said Finland won the gold medal last year by playing "the Canadian way."
Canada, meanwhile, failed to medal for the second straight year and the memories of Canada winning five-straight gold medals – the last in 2009 – seems very long ago.
For Groulx, the coach of the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and an assistant at last year's WJC, it's playing the way Team Canada did at the Sochi Olympics in February on its way to a second straight gold medal in men's hockey.
Groulx has shown clips from the Olympic tournament at this camp -- one that apparently resonated with these players was Team Canada's Sidney Crosby taking abuse in front of the opponent's net on a power play -- to hammer home the importance that playing the Canadian way includes accepting a different or diminished role compared to that played on a star's club team.
"I don't know if it's the best team in the history of Canada, but they were so good in Sochi," Groulx said of the Sochi edition of the men's national team. "The way they played was unbelievable. I think even though they won games 2-1, or 3-2 or by one goal, they were a dominant team out there. I think it's a very good example for our players. I think the example we have to grab from that tournament is if Crosby, Getzlaf and Doughty can play a certain way for a team, that's where they want to be one day. I think that's the example they've got to follow.
"You know what? They are the best players in the world unified in one team, playing the way that needed to be played to win the gold medal. What I mean by that, they have guys playing [penalty kill] who are used to being on the power play, guys who where used to playing 22 minutes, 23 minutes down to 15, they had guys blocking shots, they had Crosby driving the net, they had Getzlaf backchecking hard, they had Doughty playing in the system. For me, when you look at that, I think the leadership within that group was solid. I think everybody in that team was dialed in to win that gold medal and they were ready to make sacrifices in order to be part of that team.
"You can't get better than that, the way they were involved, the way they were all in."
Forward Curtis Lazar of the Memorial Cup champion Edmonton Oil Kings and a member of last year's fourth-place club in Sweden, is helping Groulx sell the Olympic model.
"They dominated every aspect. Simple things: The forecheck, the way they backchecked, the little detailed stuff. There's no shortcuts," said Lazar. "We showed a clip on the power play and you've got Sidney Crosby in front of the net. He's one of the most-skilled players in the world, but he's going to buy in and he's going to stand in front and screen the goalie because that's what's asked of him. Just details. You can't take any shortcuts especially in a short-term competition. That's what we touched on. A little thing goes wrong and that could be it."
REMAINING WJC CAMP SCHEDULE
Aug. 7 - U.S. vs. Finland
Aug. 8 - Sweden vs. Finland
Aug. 9 - U.S. vs. Czech Republic
Lazar said one of the quickest ways for a team to self-destruct is by putting ego ahead of the good of the group and he's wary of that type of attitude creeping in at this camp.
"A big thing with Hockey Canada is it's all about the logo on the front of your sweater," he said. "You're playing for your country. If you come in here with that mindset, ‘it's all about me and I'm going to be in the spotlight,' that's not what you need in the dressing room.
"It all comes back to the leadership group. For myself, I want to try and eliminate that as quickly as possible because it is big and it can ruin a team just like that. We have guys coming from the West, the Ontario league and the ‘Q', you've got to bond quickly. We have great guys to do that, but it's a matter of buying in and doing it regardless of how many points you put up on the year, where you play or how good your team is. It's all about the team at this exact moment."
Groulx said the staff has made it clear what it wants. It's up to the players to decide if they're ready to see things the same way.
"They know what we want on that team is the best players in the country. The best players in the country that will play for their team, that will accept their role. They will accept to go from 20, 25 minutes on their club to maybe 15 here. We want to be a four-line team. At a certain point, when you feel you have a chance to be a part of this team and the tournament in Montreal and Toronto, I think it not only from the coaches and their peers, it's got to come from you," he said.
"You've got to show, ‘you know what, I want to be part of this team and I'm ready to do anything it takes to be part of it.'"